As in recent years, the event has become a weekend-long celebration, starting on Saturday with the kid’s triathlon at the Tri-Cities YMCA at 8 a.m. A pre-race expo is also Saturday from 2-6 p.m. at the YMCA, where athletes can pick up their race packet, get body marked, complete a late registration, view course maps and get instructions from race director Ron Knoll.
Sunday is the main event, and at 7:30 a.m., athletes will take their first dip into Lake Michigan for the start of Olympic triathlon (swim, bike and run), as well hitting the course for the Olympic duathlon (bike and run).
Knoll said athletes tend to circle the date of the event on their calendar for a number of reasons. One of them, he laughs, is becoming somewhat a trademark of the event – cowbells.
“We tried to think of something unique to include with the athletes’ packets and we thought cowbells would be a great idea,” Knoll said. “They’ve become a novelty, almost a signature of the event. Dirk Bakker (of title sponsor Grand Haven Bone & Joint) just ordered more for this year.
“They’ve helped create more of a fun atmosphere. The kids cheering on their mom or dad have something to play with now and most of our volunteers have them to rally on the runners or bikers.”
Of course, a picturesque course set along Lake Michigan, Harbor Drive and surrounding Grand Haven is a huge draw.
“Let’s face it; summer in Grand Haven is spectacular,” Knoll said. “Athletes like the bike course and they like the run course.”
A third perk this year that is expected to draw more top-notch talent from across the nation is the event being designated as USA Triathlon’s Midwest Region Duathlon Championships.
As race director, Knoll said he received an invitation to bid and apply for the special designation. Step 2 of the process was receiving a visit from Mideast regional board chairman Jim Weaver. Knoll gave him a tour of the course in Grand Haven and introduced him to others who make the event run smoothly.
Weaver must have been impressed, because Knoll’s bid was eventually approved, bringing greater exposure to the quality triathlon that is being run in Grand Haven.
“It means more and better competitors,” Knoll explained. “(Athletes will) do this event just for recognition as a regional champ. The Northeast region is comprised of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky. And if you’re a regional champ, that means more points toward an athlete’s USA Triathlon ranking.”
Upon the conclusion of Sunday’s events, which also includes sprint triathlon and duathlons, there will be an awards ceremony, a grilling station with burgers, hot dogs and other food items, and live music.
“We’ve really tried to make it a family-friendly event,” Knoll said. “With all the activities we’ve got going on after the race and the kids triathlon on Saturday, it helps round out the event. Now, kids can be apart of it, even if their parents aren’t competing.”
Knoll said volunteer coordinator Lisa Highstreet does a tremendous job of ensuring the event runs smoothly, but there’s always a need for more help. Interested volunteers can contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information or to register for the Triathlon, visit www.grandhaventri.com.